When I hear people talk about the Elane Photography case from New Mexico, I am reminded of a sign Jon Stewart held during his television show about restoring civility to public controversies: “I disagree with you, but I'm pretty sure you're not Hitler.”
Stewart rightly criticized the growing efforts of some to demonize people whose ideas they oppose and not respect them as fellow citizens seeking to do what’s best for everyone.
Elaine and Jon Huguenin, the co-owners of Elane Photography, whose lawsuit the Supreme Court declined to hear Monday, have been vilified publicly simply because they acted on their beliefs that marriage is defined only as one man and one woman.
Jon and Elaine run their small photography business in Albuquerque, N.M. Vanessa Willock asked Elaine, via e-mail, to shoot her same-sex commitment ceremony and “celebrate” their day with them.
Elaine knew she could not do so in good conscience, so she respectfully declined. Willock and her partner found another photographer that charged less than Elaine.
Nonetheless, Willock filed a complaint with the state accusing Elane Photography of sexual orientation discrimination.
The New Mexico Human Rights Commission found Elane Photography guilty and ordered it to pay nearly $6,700 in attorneys’ fees.
Alliance Defending Freedom appealed on behalf of Jon and Elaine, but in August 2013, the New Mexico Supreme Court upheld the verdict and rejected our arguments that forcing Elaine to produce expression she opposed violated the First Amendment.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Richard Bosson chillingly wrote that “the sense of respect we owe others, whether or not we believe as they do ... is the price of citizenship.”
The U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear the case just this week. This was disappointing, to say the least, because the high court could have imposed some First Amendment restraints on the growing efforts by activists to suppress and punish those who do not support redefining marriage to include same-sex couples.
The zealous supporters of this new ascendant orthodoxy are repeating the same error others have made in the past: Once in power somewhere, use the arm of the government to silence your opponents.
Claim that “the debate is over,” revile their beliefs and publicly punish the marriage “heretics.” But a free and just society does not demand everyone pledge allegiance to certain beliefs about marriage.
Shutting off debate is also unwise because this novel experiment with same-sex marriage could fail. The current movement to redefine marriage rejects the consensus of world cultures throughout history, based on their collective experience, that marriage should be defined only as one man and one woman.
We may learn the hard way that those who lived before us understood something about human nature and sexuality that we are wrongly rejecting.
Americans may once again agree that we best maximize human flourishing by defining marriage only as one man and one woman.
But to restore the pro-marriage culture, we will have to rebuild many bridges we are burning today.
The first step, regardless of one's opinion on marriage, is one on which everyone should agree, as most Americans do: Silencing “heretics” is wrong and violates the basic principles of a free society.
We need to value each other’s dignity by respecting each other’s right to have an opinion instead of accusing our opponents of being just like Hitler. We must protect the right of people to express their views without being hounded out of society.
Our Founding Fathers gave us the First Amendment to protect people’s freedom of expression and freedom of conscience from these emotional spasms of government coercion.
All Americans ought to see this growing threat to our liberty and our First Amendment traditions and speak against it. That is the true “price of citizenship.”Jordan Lorence is senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents Elane Photography.